How I realised the importance of investing in early childhood

11 Nov

IMG_8257I am a businessman and member of Peru 2021, a non-profit civil association led by socially committed entrepreneurs to promote corporate social responsibility. A growing number of businesses in Peru are funding social projects and committing to build a more sustainable society. However, most of their investment is focused on helping young adults rather than very young children.

My wife, an early childhood teacher, started to work on a project funded by The Bernard van Leer Foundation. One day she invited me to a meeting with Leonardo Yánez, the Foundation’s representative for Latin America, to talk about the business case for investing in early childhood development. It was the first time I had been asked to make the connection between my own business sense and my wife’s work, and looking back I must have come off as completely ignorant. At the end of the meeting Leonardo told me he was going to invite me to the Ready Nation Early Childhood Investments Summit. Continue reading

10 tips for telling the child development story in Brazil

1 Sep

Mother, father and daughter playing in a field

When we at FMCSV (Maria Cecília Souto Vidigal Foundation) and partners began our early childhood development initiative Núcleo Ciência Pela Infância (Center for Science of Early Childhood) in 2011, we knew that effectively translating and communicating the science of early childhood would be critical to achieving our objective of mobilizing for change.

To build a successful communications strategy, we first needed to understand people’s current perceptions of child development. With the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s support, we engaged the FrameWorks Institute to investigate.

The research showed that most people in Brazil already grasped the importance of children’s relationships and environment for their development – an important overlap with scientific understanding. However, the public did not appreciate the importance of brain development during the first year, instead focusing on a baby’s physical growth and abilities. Many were under the mistaken impression that cognitive development does not start to become important until the age at which people tend to have their own first conscious memories of childhood – that is, around school age.

Father playing with babyThe research also found that the public conceptualized a separation of responsibilities between families and schools, with families looking after children’s moral education and schools looking after their cognitive learning, rather than appreciating the need for parents and schools to work in partnership. Finally, the term “early childhood” itself was little known, and people did not immediately relate it to the first six years of life.

From the experience of translating this knowledge from research into a more effective communication strategy, we can suggest some tips for communicating about this issue in Brazil.

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Helping children and families “Reach Up”: a new training package to support parents

18 Aug

Reach Up logo

There has been substantial progress in universal primary education since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established in 2000. Globally, the numbers of children entering primary school are increasing.

At the same time, millions of these children are reaching primary school without the learning and social abilities needed to fully benefit from this opportunity. This early disadvantage, particularly compared with more affluent peers, leads to increasing disparities and can contribute to dropping out from school. These disparities can keep children in a cycle of poverty.

With the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this September — the successor to the MDGs — it is time to scale up our efforts. Policymakers and international donors must take the steps needed to enable all children to reach their full potential.

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Engaging fathers and empowering mothers in Turkey

6 Aug

Turkish fathers and childrenEarlier this summer, Father’s Day provided an opportunity to get the Turkish media talking about what role fathers should play in the upbringing of their children. Media outlets reaching all sections of society picked up on our press release revisiting some of the results of a major survey we’d commissioned the previous year.[1]

The researchers asked how often fathers regularly did the following: cooking, cleaning, laundry, tidying up, washing dishes, and changing their children’s nappies. In all cases, only between 2 and 4 percent said “regularly”; the others said “sometimes” or never”.

When it came to giving their children a bath, feeding them, helping them with homework, reading to them or putting them to sleep, the picture wasn’t much more encouraging – in each of these cases, fewer than 10% said “regularly”. The researchers found that mothers were much more likely than fathers to play with their children at home, take them to the park and even just to spend time chatting with them.

Continue reading

Securing the foundation for sustainable development: towards a new era for young children and families

3 Aug

Early Childhood Matters June 2015Research on early development and recognition of the roots of inequality grew during the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1966, The Bernard van Leer Foundation funded its first major project aimed at enhancing the development of young children: The Project for Early Childhood Education (PACE), which was initiated in Jamaica. Funds were made available to the University of the West Indies to improve Basic Schools – nursery schools set up and run by the community.

Since that day nearly fifty years ago, our knowledge and understanding of the importance of the early years has grown dramatically. The emerging evidence from neuroscience to economics, as well as the latest research on effective interventions, underscores the wisdom of investing early and continuously throughout the early years. The anniversary issue of Early Childhood Matters, A Good Start: Advances in Early Childhood Development, celebrates the innovations going on around the world to bring essential services to young children and families and calls for a new era to take such effective interventions to scale.

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A new tool to help funders coordinate and grow early childhood investments in East Africa

23 Jul

Coordinating investments is a challenge all funders face. How do we avoid duplicating investments in some areas while other areas are overlooked and underfunded? How do we identify potential synergies and opportunities to collaborate with others who have similar interests, and align our investments to be more impactful?

These questions arise frequently for my colleagues and me at Bernard van Leer Foundation. As the range of actors investing in early childhood development (ECD) in East Africa grows, so does the challenge of understanding who is investing in what, and where.

Luckily, we now have a way to get at the answers we need. With our support, Foundation Center – a leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide – took up the challenge of creating Foundation Maps for Early Childhood Development in East Africa, a funding map that serves as a planning and learning tool to identify gaps and opportunities. Foundation Center designed it with foundations, NGOs, policymakers, and other ECD stakeholders in mind.

Early Childhood Development in East Africa

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A mobile app to measure how children experience violence

9 Jul

Child Security Index appChildren’s perceptions of violence are an essential input when it comes to designing, implementing and monitoring prevention policies and programmes. However, their views and experiences are rarely collected systematically, especially in low-income settings. Now, there’s an easier way of filling this knowledge gap.

Developed by Brazil’s Igarapé Institute, the Child Security Index (CSI) is an open-source smartphone app which generated considerable excitement on its launch in 2014. It won the Google Impact Challenge prize, was covered by media from the BBC to O Globo, given a platform by TEDGlobal and attracted interest from the World Bank and UNICEF, among others. Continue reading

State of the World’s Fathers: how health providers can help fathers get more involved in early childhood

19 Jun

Father & sonThis week marks the release of the first-ever State of the World’s Fathers report, an advocacy publication of the MenCare campaign. The report highlights research, policies, and programme examples regarding the state of men’s contributions to parenting and caregiving globally. Kate Gilmore, deputy executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), called the report “historic” at its global launch.

The report highlights the great potential for positive outcomes that results from involving fathers before, during and after the birth of a child. Expecting a child is often a turning point in men’s lives – they may feel excited, vulnerable, and open to change. As one first time father from South Africa put it: “I am excited about [my wife] being pregnant, I have started to learn about it. I am willing to learn everything – changing nappies…I want to do everything from the start to infinity!” Continue reading

A social business that empowers Bedouin women, delivers delicious hot meals to Bedouin children and makes money

30 Apr

Al Sanabel2The Israeli government has asked BvLF partner AJEEC-NISPED to roll out its Al-Sanabel school catering business nationwide in 2015. It continues the remarkable success story of a social enterprise that the Foundation has helped to fund.

The poverty of the Negev desert region, which extends over the southern half of Israel, means that almost all the Bedouin children who live there are guaranteed a hot meal at school each day under the Israeli food security act of 2004. However, the poor quality and unfamiliar style of the cooked-from-frozen meals provided by private contractors from elsewhere in Israel meant many Bedouin children would not eat them. Continue reading

Using evidence, storytelling and campaigning to improve living conditions for Roma children

9 Apr

Roma_2Fighting discrimination is a long journey marked by many small steps. An example: in April 2014, Rome’s Mayor Ignazio Marino banned the use of “nomad” – a word that was perpetuating outdated stereotypes and prejudices – to refer to Roma people in official policy and institutional documents. It followed a specific request from Foundation partner Associazione 21 Iuglio, and reflects an ongoing transformation in public attitudes.

It was with good intentions that the Italian authorities had first settled Roma people in camps in the 1980s, believing their “nomadic culture” meant they would not adjust to life in conventional houses. But now the camps, overcrowded and often lacking in proper sanitation or security, are not fit places for young children to grow up in. Their isolated locations and insecure tenure for residents make it hard for Roma families to find and keep jobs or to access services, including education. Continue reading


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